A whiskey experiment spanning two continents.
Making an Old Fashioned is easy. Screwing it up is even easier.
The Old Fashioned is one of the oldest and simplest cocktails in the book. It is the very definition of a cocktail – spirit, citrus, bitters, and sweetener. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, if you’ve ever ordered an Old Fashioned and been handed a glass of whiskey served over a graveyard of mutilated fruit and topped with soda water, then you know exactly what can go wrong.
For the record, the Old Fashioned is typically made by dropping a couple dashes of Angostura bitters in a quarter ounce of simple syrup in a rocks glass, muddling an orange peel in the mixture, adding two ounces of whiskey, stirring, and then plopping one or two large ice cubes into the mix. That’s not a definitive recipe, and there are plenty of wonderful variations. Some people use lemon instead of orange, or use the peel as a garnish instead of muddling it. A sugar cube is a classy alternative to syrup. Some drinkers prefer bourbon; others, rye. Even whole slices of muddled fruit are OK, within reason.
And yet this drink has a way of going off the rails. I’m not opposed to having a little fruit in there, but I’ve seen Old Fashioneds served with a mash of orange, lemon, maraschino cherries, even pineapple – sometimes all in the same glass. Then there’s the soda water, which for some reason I find particularly galling.
I’ve read that the trouble began during Prohibition. An Old Fashioned made with whiskey distilled in some guy’s garage was probably vile, so disguising the astringent flavor with fruit and soda was probably wasn’t a half-bad idea. Unfortunately, the practice survived the so-called Noble Experiment and persisted until fairly recently. This glorious craft cocktail renaissance has elevated our standards, and many bartenders have sought to restore the Old Fashioned to its purer, more traditional form.
And yet, even without the extraneous ingredients, a truly exceptional Old Fashioned is hard to come by. Dave Willis, co-owner of Bully Boy Distillers, thinks the most common misstep is not adding enough bitters.
And he blames the bottle. “When you use a bottle of Angostura bitters, it’s really, really difficult to determine how much bitters you’re adding and how much bitters you should add, because it has that odd sort of drip/pouring mechanism,” he explained to me when I visited the Bully Boy distillery back in August. “So I use a lot of bitters.”
Why should you care about how much Angostura Dave uses in an Old Fashioned? Because he’s something of an authority on the matter – as he’ll tell you. “Not to toot my own horn, but I make an unbelievable Old Fashioned,” he humbly declared when we met this summer.
If you don’t believe him, you can try his version for yourself. Last month, Bully Boy released a bottled Old Fashioned made in accordance with Dave and his brother Will’s recipe for this classic cocktail. It’s a limited release product that will be available through the winter months.
While bottled cocktails are becoming more common and improving in quality, there’s still a tendency to be leery of any prepared version of a craft drink. But there’s nothing in Bully Boy’s bottle that doesn’t belong – just whiskey, muddled raw sugar, and Angostura bitters. As for Dave’s comment about using “a lot of bitters,” that’s a phrase that takes on a different meaning when you consider that he and Will acquired a 50-gallon drum of the stuff while they were batching the cocktail. Dave explained that working with such large quantities enabled them to better control the proportions, as opposed to the guesswork that accompanies the drips and dashes from the usual bottle of Angostura.
The base spirit is Bully Boy’s aged American Straight whiskey, made from corn, rye, and malted barley. With flavor notes common to both bourbon and rye whiskey, it’s well suited to an Old Fashioned.
As a lover of Old Fashioneds (and as someone who takes pride in making a respectable one), I can say I’m genuinely impressed with the final product. True to Dave’s good-natured boast, it’s an outstanding interpretation. The ingredients are beautifully balanced – just the right amount of sugar and bitters, and the whiskey is notable for its unique blend of sweet and spicy notes.
The Willis brothers suggest muddling an orange wheel and a maraschino cherry. That’s more fruit than I’d ordinarily use, but the combination does work pretty well. Still, I prefer just an orange peel. With a little less fruitiness, the spicy notes of the whiskey stand out and the flavor of the bitters is more prominent.
Bully Boy hasn’t just idiot-proofed the Old Fashioned; they’ve elevated it. Their bottled product is convenient for anyone who struggles to perfect this classic drink but is good enough to satisfy skeptical connoisseurs.
Will and Dave recommend pouring “two fingers” of the cocktail, a generous and utterly satisfying measure of it, over a large ice cube.
Nowhere do they recommend using soda water.
I received a complimentary bottle of the Old Fashioned from someone associated with Bully Boy. I was neither asked nor expected to write a review of it. The opinions expressed here are, as always, my own.
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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.
In many respects, the daiquiri is a humble drink. Its ingredients are few and not difficult to acquire. Making one doesn’t require any extraordinary skill or technique. And yet the daiquiri enjoys a certain exalted status in the pantheon of cocktails – particularly among those who make them for a living. I remember seeing a segment on a local news show last year in which John Gertsen, the now former general manager of Drink and one of the country’s most respected bartenders, named the daiquiri one of his three favorite cocktails. The daiquiri is the pre-shift drink of choice at New York’s renowned cocktail bar Death & Co, and their recently published cocktail book devotes six pages to variations of the recipe – including a two-page spread that covers each bartender’s preferred ingredients.
The daiquiri has enjoyed something of a revival after years spent out of the limelight (no pun intended). For years I think there was a tendency to dismiss it as little more than a poolside drink. And really, as cocktails go, how seriously can you take those slushy, artificially sweet concoctions you see endlessly churning in a machine at a beach bar? Not that I’m above a frozen libation on a summer afternoon. But whenever I see a pre-made daiquiri, it makes me wonder – since it’s so easy to make the real thing, why wouldn’t you?
Which brings us to the purpose of this week’s post. A few weeks ago, the good people at Brugal were kind enough to send me a sample bottle of their Extra Dry rum. It’s a product I’ve long been familiar with; anecdotally, I’d say it trails only Privateer in terms of popularity among Boston-area mixologists. But the Brugal family has been making rum in the Dominican Republic since 1888, and a series of aggressive marketing campaigns in recent years have raised the brand’s profile in the United States.
Last year I got to learn about the distillery and its rum line when I attended a Brugal Rum Redefined event in Boston. But having a bottle to myself gave me the opportunity to get better acquainted with the spirit – and to try it out in a homemade daiquiri.
First, a bit about the Brugal Extra Dry product. It’s a fairly unusual rum, given that dryness isn’t a quality one ordinarily associates with a spirit made from molasses. Brugal distills most of the heavy alcohols and flavors out of its rum, leaving a spirit that’s crisp, clean, and smooth. And its clear complexion can be deceiving – Brugal Extra Dry is an aged rum that spends 2 to 5 years in white American oak casks before a triple-filtering process strips it of color.
The result is a rum that’s more subtle than sweet. On the nose, there’s no alcoholic burn; just the subdued but unmistakable aroma of rum. Sipping it reveals notes of citrus and vanilla up front and a faint sweetness on the back of the palate.
Onto the daiquiri. The drink’s simplicity lends itself to all manner of alterations and modifications, but the three principal ingredients are rum, lime juice, and sugar. The most consistent recipe that I’ve found, and the one I use, is as follows:
2 ounces rum
1 once fresh lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup
Not only does it make the best daiquiri, in my opinion, the measurements are pretty easy to remember. The instructions are simple. Throw a few ice cubes in a cocktail shaker.
Add the rum, then the juice, and finally the syrup. Shake it for a good 15 seconds or so, then strain it into a chilled glass. If you want to impress your guests (or your Instagram followers), garnish it with a lime wheel. And there you have it.
Of course, a daiquiri is only as good as the ingredients you use, and it should come as no surprise that Brugal works beautifully in this timeless cocktail. With its mellow character and citrusy notes, the rum allows the lime juice to shine, giving the drink a fresh, natural flavor. And because of the spirit’s dryness, the simple syrup doesn’t over-sweeten the drink. The result is a wonderfully smooth, well-balanced daiquiri that truly exceeds the sum of its parts.
To get an even better understanding of Brugal, I thought it would be useful to make another daiquiri with a different rum. The obvious choice would have been Bacardi, one of the world’s best-selling brands and one that bears all the hallmarks of a mass-produced spirit. But I didn’t have any Bacardi on hand, so I used another old standby – Don Q. A solid, respectable rum made in Puerto Rico, I’ve enjoyed Don Q in many a cocktail and will continue to.
But under scrutiny, the differences between Brugal and Don Q quickly become apparent. On its own, Don Q has more of that boozy burn when you sniff it. Sipping it neat isn’t bad, but with some prominent spices and heavier flavors, it’s more aggressive than the Brugal.
Those traits carry over to the Don Q daiquiri. It’s certainly enjoyable, but lacks the clean, refined essence of its Brugal counterpart. This version has a bigger, more noticeable mouth feel and a bolder alcohol flavor. Highly enjoyable, but not exceptional.
And yet with two freshly made daiquiris in front of me, I was reminded of my very first daiquiri experience. It was of the frozen strawberry variety, made with a sugary mix that came out of a can. Given what I assume my age was at the time, I’m sure I thought it was the best thing ever. But my appreciation for this classic, straightforward cocktail has grown considerably since then, and my idea of what constitutes a quality rum has been redefined.
Note: The bottle of Brugal rum I received was complimentary. I was under no obligation to review or promote it in any way, shape, or form.
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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.
Bottled mixed drinks have never enjoyed a glowing reputation. I don’t think I’ve ever tried one of those pre-mixed margaritas or daiquiris that can usually be found coated with a layer of dust on the bottom shelf of a liquor store; so, in truth, I can’t say I know they’re terrible. But in the same way that I don’t have to eat a forkful of cat food to know it’s not for me, I’ve always felt comfortable dismissing the pre-mixed cocktail genre in its entirety.
It may seem ironic, then, that in this era of handmade cocktails and fresh ingredients, bottled cocktails are experiencing an upswing in popularity and, more importantly, quality. Plenty of bartenders have been experimenting with carbonated, pre-mixed drinks, and several respected liquor producers have attempted to capture the complexity and freshness of a good cocktail, bottle it, and put it on store shelves.
On one end of the spectrum, there’s Charles Joly, a world-renowned bartender willing to put his name on his own line of bottled cocktails. On the other end, you’ve got those abominations I keep seeing Budweiser advertise, which I guess are maybe beer or some malt beverage that tastes like a cocktail? Honestly, don’t even tell me; I really don’t want to know.
And so it was with a mix of optimism and skepticism that I approached Mija Sangria, a bottled sangria made by Latitude Beverage Company, the founders of 90+ Cellars.
I received a sample of this bottled sangria earlier this month, just in time for the very type of weather that calls for this refreshing wine-based libation.
My first thought was this – why go to the trouble of bottling something that’s as easy to make as sangria? (Actually, that’s not true; my first thought was “free booze delivered to my door, YES!!!!”) All you need is a halfway-decent red wine, fresh fruit, maybe some soda, and you’re on your way. Why not bottle something that takes a more practiced hand or requires ingredients that the casual home bartender may not want to invest in?
But I digress.
On appearance alone, Mija makes a winning first impression. The bottle is beautifully designed, and its resealable flip-top means you can reuse it. Further, the screen-printed label makes a strong case for the bottle’s contents, describing the sangria as a premium red wine blended with genuine, natural, unfiltered fruit juices.
The accompanying product description sounds promising too – no artificial additives, plenty of antioxidants from fruits such as pomegranate, açai, and blood orange.
How Does it Taste?
Of course, like so many things in life, it’s what’s inside that counts. And I’m happy to say that despite my reservations…it’s pretty good!
First off, it’s actually a sangria, not some flavored mix masquerading as the timeless summertime beverage. It’s full-flavored and well balanced, with a fresh aroma and a very natural fruitiness.
The product description promises pulp, just like a homemade sangria. I was disappointed not to find any in my bottle, but it did have a thick, rich consistency that compensated for any lack of texture.
My only real criticism is that it’s too sweet for my taste. Many sangria recipes call for brandy, and I think that’s what’s missing here – an ingredient that adds some complexity, balances the sweetness, and gives the drink some bottom.
I didn’t have any brandy on hand, but experimented with adding a little dark rum. While I didn’t get the proportions quite right, it did contribute some depth.
And the Mija folks actually encourage that sort of experimentation. Although it’s bottled ready to drink, the serving notes suggest it can be used as a cocktail ingredient or as a base for your own sangria. So if it feels incomplete, depending on your taste, it will stand up to some customization.
To Make or to Buy
Given the choice, I’m always going to prefer making my own sangria. I get excited about spending hours looking up the best recipes, experimenting with different batches, and eventually settling on my own interpretation.
But I realize not everyone has the time or inclination for that. Plus, the best homemade sangrias tend sit for a while to let the flavors come together, and it’s hard to argue with the comparative ease of grabbing a bottle at the liquor store on the way to a summer party.
In that respect, I can definitely understand the appeal of a quality bottled sangria.
And while I may quibble with the sweetness and crave some more complexity, there’s one thing about Mija I should make abundantly clear – if you simply handed me a glass of it, I would never guess that it came from a bottle. Nothing about it tastes, smells, or looks processed, and being able to capture that freshness is a genuine achievement.
Note: The bottle of Mija sangria I received was complimentary. I was not asked or expected to review or promote it in any way, shape, or form.
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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.
Well here we are, just about midway through the year, and I hope 2013 has been treating you well. Sorry if my posts have been a little sporadic as of late. I’ll blame it on the Bruins and their penchant for overtime games. I hope to be returning to the regular Friday posting schedule shortly, and there are some fun bar reviews on the horizon. A couple places in Jamaica Plain have beckoning to me, and I also need to pay a visit to the recently opened, Prohibition-themed Carrie Nation.
You can expect a few new entries in the outdoor seating series, as well.
This week, though, I’ll be making my annual trip to the Montreal Jazz Festival, so…no bar review. But I thought I’d take this time to share a semi-original drink recipe with you. This spiked blackberry sage lemonade is a welcome treat on the hot, humid days and nights we’ve been having, and it’ll go especially well with your Fourth of July celebrations.
Eager as I am to share the recipe, I’m mortified to admit that it’s called the “Lyrical Gangster,” a ridiculous name borrowed from a 90s hip hop song that I take no joy in being associated with. How it got attached to my drink, I’ll explain later in the program. For now, here’s how to make this wonderfully refreshing summertime beverage.
At its core, this drink is a blackberry lemonade. You can find multiple recipes on the web, but the one I use is from http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/blackberry-lemonade. My version includes a couple of modifications, including doubling the recipe. I usually make it for a group or a party, and it tends to disappear quickly.
You will need:
8 cups of water, divided.
2 cups of sugar.
2 cups of blackberries.
2 cups of lemon juice – which, as I’ve learned the hard way, is a staggering 12 to 14 lemons.
2 tablespoons of lemon zest.
Fresh sage leaves.
Vodka (or your spirit of choice).
Start with the lemon zest. It’ll take 3 to 4 lemons to yield 2 tablespoons of grated peel. If you have a Microplane grater, this should go pretty quickly.
What never seems to go quickly is squeezing the lemons. I strongly recommend using a citrus squeezer; if you don’t have one, you’re in for a very long afternoon. I did this by hand once before – as in, just squeezing the lemons over a measuring cup – and it’s exhausting. Even with the citrus squeezer, it takes a little while. Be patient; your hard work will pay off.
Once you’ve got those ingredients ready, bring 4 cups of water and the sugar to a boil in a large sauce pan or Dutch oven (hee hee). Let it boil for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in the lemon juice, zest, and the remaining 4 cups of water. Let it cool for a bit; about 10 minutes.
In a blender, combine 2 cups of your newly made lemon mixture with the blackberries. Cover that bad boy tightly and blend for a minute or so.
Next up, strain the blackberry seeds and discard them. (This is easily the stickiest and messiest part of the process, no matter how you do it; consider yourself warned.) Pour the thick, concentrated, blackberry/lemon combo into a pitcher and add the remaining lemon mixture. Put it in the fridge and let it get nice and cold.
When it’s ready to serve, find yourself a tumbler (though I suppose any type of glass will do). Put a few sage leaves in the bottom and sprinkle with just a dash of sugar.
Gently muddle the leaves with the sugar. (If you don’t have a muddler, don’t worry; the leaves just need to be bruised, and you can do that with the end of a wooden spoon. The sugar provides some coarseness to help release the fragrant oils; you can use a little simple syrup instead, but the drink doesn’t need much in terms of sweetening.) Add ice. Then pour 5 ounces or so of the blackberry lemonade. Add 1.5 ounces of vodka and gently stir.
Voila! The sweetness of the blackberries complements the tartness of the lemon, and the aromatic, earthy sage gently permeates the drink. I think the lemon pulp and zest result in a nice texture, but if you prefer a smoother drinking experience, combine the lemonade and vodka in a shaker and strain it into a glass.
The flavor of the drink is robust even before you add the vodka, which means you can barely even taste the alcohol. That, of course, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you can use a cheaper vodka without compromising the flavor of the drink. On the other hand, you might find yourself throwing back more than a few of these before you realize you’re hammered. Which brings me to the story of how this cocktail got stuck with such a stupid name.
I first made this at home a few summers ago; Melissa and Kelly were there, maybe a couple other people too. We were hanging out, enjoying what was then known only as blackberry lemonade with muddled sage and a shot of vodka, and listening to a 90s station that was streaming on Pandora. The drink was a big hit, and after we’d all had a few, we decided it needed a name. So I started throwing around some ideas – really inspiring stuff, like “Blackberry Showers” and “Purple Sunshine” and a few more. Nothing seemed to resonate.
After a few more hours and God knows how many more drinks, I found myself mildly frustrated that everyone was so impressed with my cocktail but didn’t appreciate the brilliance of my proposed names.
And then, it happened. Unfortunately.
The song “Here Comes the Hotstepper,” by the immortal Ini Kamoze, came on the 90s station; laughter, justifiably, ensued. If you’re unfamiliar with the song, do yourself a favor and don’t bother seeking it out (if you do know it, my apologies if I’m getting it stuck in your head). All you need to know is that in it, the singer declares himself to be, among other things, “the lyrical gangster.” It’s a curious boast for an artist whose only hit is lyrically banal and owes its refrain to the 60s song “Land of 1000 Dances.” But I digress. The point is, I held up my drink and jokingly said, “Hey, I should call it the Lyrical Gangster!”
…and of course, it stuck.
I should have known. I could see the vodka clouding everyone’s judgment except mine, the heat of the night scrambling their senses. I tried, desperately, to temper their enthusiasm, quickly suggesting a few other names and saying we’d have to revisit the matter some other time. But in my heart, I knew…my drink was going to be called the f*cking Lyrical Gangster.
I’ll acknowledge it rolls off the tongue more easily than “Blackberry Sage Lemonade With Vodka,” but had I known the name would be inspired by that night’s music, I would have piped up during “Black Hole Sun” or “Santeria,” or maybe a Weezer song. Or better yet, not been playing a 90s station in the first place.
Whatever. I suppose it’s like getting stuck with a funny but unwanted nickname that all your friends delight in using. You can fight it all you want, but they’re still going to use it. I chose to embrace the Lyrical Gangster and count my blessings that “Mambo No. 5” didn’t come on that night.
Back to the drink. While I think regular vodka works best in the Lyrical Gangster, I’m sure you can get some tasty combinations with flavored vodkas. I’ve tried it with vanilla vodka, which isn’t bad, and rum goes nicely as well; but you don’t want anything too strong that will overpower the core components.
It’s also delicious with no alcohol, so if you’re serving it at a party with some younglings or teetotalers, everyone can partake.
It can be a little cumbersome to make...
...but I hope you’ll think it’s worth it.
That’s all for me. I’m headed north to listen to jazz, eat smoked meat and poutine, and give my liver a workout for the ages. I hope everyone has a safe, fun, and happy Fourth of July. And as always, thanks for reading.
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Copyright © Boston BarHopper. All Rights Reserved.
I’m often tempted to break up my bar reviews with the occasional short post devoted to making a particular cocktail at home. Not that I have anything profound to contribute to the world of mixology. I just figure it would serve as a nice change of pace and give me a chance to talk about some of my favorite drinks or share a recipe for something original. The reason I always talk myself out of the idea is because, over the course of the past 9 or 10 months, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some highly accomplished bartenders who have clearly worked hard to perfect their craft. I have the utmost respect for those individuals who have spent countless hours learning how different ingredients complement each other, interact with one another, and combine to make a unique cocktail. The kind of drink that, yes, might get you buzzed, but will also prompt you to take notice of the flavors and appreciate the thoughtful composition.
My fear is that if I put my own concoctions on the blog, then regardless of how many qualifiers or disclaimers I include, it will look like I’m putting my drinks on the same level as the talented mixologists I write about. Maybe I’m overthinking it. But I’d rather focus on the work of people who do this for a living than on amateur cocktail hour at the Boston BarHopper headquarters.
This week, I’m making an exception. A fellow blogger, Erika, who runs the excellent Beautiful Life and Style site, asked a few other bloggers to submit their holiday-themed cocktail recipes for a post she was writing. I was honored to be invited and excited to participate.
Given the occasion, I wanted to make a special drink. Something decadent and desserty, with flavors that recalled the season; the kind of thing you’d only make this time of year. After a week or so of mixing, matching, making my ingredient list, checking it twice, sipping, pacing, and sipping again, I settled on what in bartending parlance would be called a Frangelico flip. But I call it the Hazelnutcracker.
This simple recipe yields a creamy, frothy, nutty drink that you can reward yourself with after a long day of Christmas shopping, wrapping presents, sending greeting cards, rigging up the lights, what have you. It calls for a raw egg, which tends to make people a little squeamish. An egg was not uncommon in older cocktail recipes, but over time it became something of a lost art. I’ve been seeing it more frequently in recent years, as mixologists revisit classic concoctions like fizzes and flips. It contributes a meringue-like creaminess that, unlike milk or cream, doesn’t weigh the cocktail down. Still skeptical? Just use a fresh egg (organic if that’s the way you roll), shake well, and you’ll be fine. Adding a little extra alcohol can’t hurt, either. Plus, I downed enough raw eggs to make Rocky blush while I was testing this bad boy, and I lived to write the blog post.
Here are the ingredients:
One large brown egg.
2 ounces Frangelico (if the holiday stress is really getting to you, throw in a little vanilla vodka).
Crack the egg into a shaker. Shake vigorously for at least one minute; your egg should look thick and frothy. Add the Frangelico and four or five ice cubes. Shake again, for at least another minute; frost should form on the exterior of the shaker.
Strain into a glass. Sprinkle with nutmeg, and use a stirrer or straw to swirl the nutmeg on the surface.
I also tried this with a few variations before settling on the final recipe. The coffee flavor of Kahlua nicely accompanies the hazelnut, but it spoils the texture. Bailey’s works with the soft, frothy texture, but it completely dominates the flavor, rendering it a large glass of Bailey’s (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). As mentioned above, vanilla vodka is the best addition, if you feel like it needs something more. I tried one version with all of the aforementioned liqueurs, but when I thought I heard reindeer clopping around on the roof, I knew I’d overdone it. Ultimately, the Frangelico by itself allows for a warm, nutty flavor that needs no further accompaniment.
The Hazelnutcracker is best enjoyed on a snowy night in front of an open fire, with the holiday jazz stylings of the Vince Guaraldi Trio providing a peaceful, happy soundtrack.
It might also help take the edge off when the magic of your Christmas celebration gives way to the powerful lungs of young children or the vocal political opinions of relatives. (If things really take a turn, you can just say the raw eggs didn’t agree with you and excuse yourself; it’s a very useful drink.)
You should also check out Beautiful Life and Style if you have a chance. It’s a lovely site, and in the same post that I contributed to, you’ll find three other tempting seasonal drinks. Despite my week of nightly cocktails, I couldn’t resist trying two of them (I’d have made the third, too, but I didn’t have the ingredients). There’s nothing like a hot, potent drink to help you shake off the winter chill, and this Hot Buttered Cider did the trick.
The Yule Mule offered a tasty, festive twist on a Moscow Mule.
You’ll have to follow the link for the recipes, and you’ll be glad you did.
Thanks again to Erika of Beautiful Life and Style for coming up with such a fun idea. I wonder if Santa would bring me a new liver…